Friday, July 31, 2015
Tomorrow marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week!  There are many events happening this week to promote breastfeeding as well as to help celebrate all that we've accomplished on our breastfeeding journeys.  
Breastmilk is nature's perfect source of nutrition for children.  The poster below really gives a thorough look into what makes breastmilk so powerful! There is nothing else that comes close.  I love this poster (click here for zoom-in view) created in 2007 from students of Douglas College- by Cecily Heslett, Sherri Hedberg and Haley Rumble.
I've had trouble being able to give my youngest breastmilk because of her oral issues, she was unable to transfer milk correctly and by the time she was a month old, she was diagnosed with failure to thrive.  The lactation consultant told me at that point, "Just feed the baby."
Most people probably just assume that means it's formula time.  That's usually the go-to answer when breastfeeding doesn't work out.  However, I started exclusively pumping in hopes that I'd be able to keep up with my baby's needs, but my body would not fully cooperate.  I was always short no matter how many hours a day I spent hooked up to the pump.  I wanted to give her the best, and I couldn't by myself.  But I knew someone out there would help us get to our goals, so I started looking for a donor.
Milk sharing has been around for centuries. Wet-nursing was the norm prior to the invention of infant formula.  Having a milk donor made sense to me, I thought, "If we can drink milk from more than one cow, why not more than one human?"
This article from the International Milk Genomics Consortium titled Human Milk Sharing: Evolutionary Insights and Modern Risks highlights the cultural history of milk sharing. You can also read what Wikipedia has on wet-nursing HERE.
These days, instead of seeing wet-nursing, mothers that have an abundant milk supply have been pumping and donating their excess milk to babies in need.  Many have donated to milk banks.
"Donor milk banking is defined as the collection, screening, processing, and distribution of human milk from volunteer breastfeeding mothers." from Becoming a Donor to a Human Milk Bank by Lois D. W. Arnold, MPH, IBCLC- LLL
When you take away direct nursing, more contaminants are allowed into the equation.  Ensuring that your child is receiving safe milk is a high priority.  The Human Milk Banking Association of North America has protocols developed by the FDA and CDC on how to screen milk donors, collect, process and distribute breastmilk.  This breastmilk is usually used for NICU babies and fragile or ill children that have obtained a prescription from their physician.  There are currently 16 milk banks in the United States and 3 in Canada.
If your child is ineligible for a prescription for donor milk from a milk bank, or you cannot afford it, the next best choice is personal donations through a more informal milk sharing arrangement.  Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets are  two volunteer networks that promote the nourishment of children all around the world with human milk.
"HM4HB is a volunteer-only network of community pages that does not receive any kind of funding or financial support. Our main focus is to facilitate breastmilk sharing and the network’s community pages are a strictly noncommercial environment. We do not support the sale of human milk... We are a community-oriented network and we expect members to inform themselves–and to encourage others to inform themselves–about risks, benefits, and alternatives."
Eats on Feets has set up some principles to ensure safe breastmilk sharing.
These sites have local chapters all across the globe and envision that someday every single child will thrive on breastmilk.
My story is pretty simple.  I reached out on Facebook to the local breastfeeding support group and on both the HM4HB & Eats On Feets sites local chapter pages.  I asked questions about how old their babies were, how they stored their milk, any medications they took, if they drank or smoked and if they had any type of disease.  Working with my instincts, I was able to find and meet two donors and went to pick up 280 ounces of pure liquid gold!  Having this milk meant so much to me... and I became good friends with our donors!
I asked others to share their experiences with milk sharing and I'm so happy to give their voices a place to be heard.  I hope that you find their stories inspirational, because I do!
Melanie K.:  "I actually learned about milk sharing through a local support group. There were other mamas whom have had to turn to others and Jaime (our donor) was a friend and former coworker of mine that for medical reasons has to pump all her babies milk and is an overproducer. Since she knew my concerns about not producing enough she had told me if I needed help that she would gladly help us! In the hospital my milk wasnt coming in quick enough and the twins were born at 38 weeks (too old to be offered donor milk through the hospital) so we faced them pushing formula and absolutely said no. I made the call to Jamie and in less then an hour her family was at the hosptial with milk for us! She gave us milk three more times and it got us through til my milk fully came in! Our experience was a beautiful one.... I literally get tears every time I think of what she did for my babies without any hesitation!"
Jaime B.: "I heard about milk donation when my son was born in January of this year. I was induced at 37 weeks because my son had a kidney condition called severe bilateral hydronephrosis and his worsening kidney issues forced his birth. Due to his kidney issues, he cannot have formula, so after his birth while he was in the NICU, he received donated breastmilk through the Mother's Milk Bank of Iowa. Also because of my son's kidney issues, I could not feed him directly from the breast. We have had to keep very accurate records of how much he eats each day, and so I became an exclusive pumper. Pumping made it possible for me to establish an excellent milk supply, and I have been an oversupplier since shortly after his birth. Milk sharing with other mothers wasn't anything I considered until a good friend, who was due with twins, made a Facebook post saying that the colostrum she had been collecting in the weeks prior to her babies delivery had been left out of the freezer by accident and thawed leaving her with nothing for when her babies were going to be born. I made a post saying should she need any milk in the early weeks to just let me know because I had plenty. A few weeks later she gave birth, and on the evening of her twins birth she contacted me asking for a big favor. She needed milk for her boys, and I promptly delivered to her 30 ounces of my son's early milk. She again asked for more milk on her twins 3rd day of life, and I shared 30 ounces more with her. On their 5th day of life, she asked again, and I shared 30 more ounces. It was the most wonderful feeling to know her boys were receiving breast milk exclusively and I was a huge reason for that! It was amazing to be giving other babies the best start in life. I have since shared 700 ounces with 4 other babies. My milk has nurtured and supported 6 babies and their mothers. It has lessened the stress and anxiety and worry of these mothers as they struggle with their own supply issues, and their desire to feed their babies breast milk. My husband has been a huge support in my milk sharing journey. It is a decision we make together. I posted on Human Milk for Human Babies, and together my husband and I decided on with who we wanted to share or son's milk. He fully supports me. I've been surprised by the response I've gotten from friends and family. They have either been super supportive or have made no comment on the subject." 
Kristi L.:  "I first learned about donor milk from a Facebook group that I joined, IGT and Low Supply. Many of the mothers in the group supplement with donor milk. They were also a great source of information regarding where to find donor donor milk. All of my donors have volunteered information regarding their health, diet and medication use. If a donor didn't volunteer I would ask basic information about their lifestyle and specifically any medications they have taken. Using donor milk requires trust. In most cases I have met their babies and this is the milk they are feeding them. It's about moms helping other moms. I first decided to seek out donor milk when he was a month old. I had been supplementing with formula but he was going to be having a major surgery at 6 weeks and I wanted all of the antibodies and goodness from breastmilk in his system that I could possibly give him. He did so well on donor milk and had much fewer gastrointestinal issues that I decided to continue using donor milk. It gave me peace of mind, too. It's a terrible feeling to nurse and pump around the clock, to try every supplement, to eat oatmeal every meal and drink water by the gallon and still not produce enough milk to feed your baby. Donor milk relieved some of that guilt and pressure and helped me relax and enjoy our nursing relationship. That reduction in stress actually increased my milk supply. Most of my friends and family were very supportive. I had a few question the safety or voice that they didn't understand why I just didn't feed him formula. We've been using donor milk for over 5 months and everyone just accepts it as our normal now. Our experience with donor milk has been entirely positive. I've met so many wonderful moms through donor milk. I am amazed over and over again at the compassion and generosity of mothers willing to help another mom feed their baby. I think it such a wonderful example of how moms should treat each other - it's the opposite of the mommy wars! Also, one of our donors has a heartbreaking/touching story. Her son was a micro-preemie. She pumped thousands of ounces during his 6 months in the NICU. Her milk was high lipase and once he was feeding by mouth he wouldn't drink it. She teared up the first time we got milk from her because another baby (and a baby with health issues) could use her milk, it wouldn't go to waste. At the time teddy had a feeding tube so it didn't matter it was high lipase - and he ended up drinking it fine, too. We still have one more donation to pick up from her!"
Kristi B.:  "After my 2nd child, my babysitter knew I was struggling with pumping enough to feed my girl, so she mentioned there was another daycare mom who had some extra frozen milk and so she offered to donate. I thought it was strange at first, but I knew the lady really well and knew she was very healthy, was always conscience of what she was putting into her body, so I knew I could trust her. She helped me out for about 2 months and then we had to switch to formula. After I had my 3rd child, I was struggling with pumping again once I went back to work and an old friend from back home suggested a local breastfeeding group on FB, for a place to ask questions, get support. I noticed moms were offering some extra milk they had and others request for milk to be donated to them…so I spoke with my fiancé about it and he was all for us finding donors! I put a little “ad” out into the group and found some donors right away. A few of them pumped exclusively for me for a few months until their baby was weaned and some were just random one time donors. People on this FB group also suggested the Human Milk for Human Babies of Iowa site too, which is a place I also found some donors. The reason I sought donor milk is because I wanted to give my babies the “best of the best” for their first year of life. I felt it was a huge health benefit to get the antibodies needed to fight off infections, viruses, etc. I noticed with my first 2, as soon as they were weaned off of breastmilk, they both started to get sick with colds. Could have been coincidence but they were always so healthy when on breastmilk. A lot of donors were moms on the site I frequently visited and had conversations about various topics with. I screened the donors by asking them if they were on any medications while pumping, if they smoked/drank alcohol, etc. None of my babies had any food allergies so that was never a concern. It’s a risk you take, but I would think that most mothers who breastfed their children and stored the oversupply of milk, were not alcoholics and drug users so I did put a lot of trust into these mamas. My family thought what I was doing was a little strange at first and asked “how do you know that person?” …but after a while they started sharing my posts on looking for donor milk, or would pick it up for me if it was in their area, and became accustomed to the idea. A lot of other friends would say “good for you!” because it IS a lot of work to make sure you have enough to get through and finding new donors in between. My experience has been phenomenal. I’m SO thankful for the moms that have donated. I have had about 3 dozen different donors in the last 2 years, for my 2 youngest babies. My youngest is almost 5 months and is still EBF even though my supply slowed down and tapered off at month 3. (My breasts do not respond to the pump well) and my 19 month old girl has been on regular milk since 13 months but she is such a healthy and happy girl til this day. All of my kiddos are, so incredibly thankful. There was a one week period while I was on vacation last summer and ran out of frozen milk. I bought the organic formula and she tolerated it…but her gut did not. She would get bound up and have a hard time pooping, which made her miserable during that week. Once back on the breastmilk, she was great again. She did have a few ear infections around 6 months and 9 months old, but other than that, my kids were never sick while on breastmilk. If they were, it was something minor like a cough or cold. It was wonderful for their immune system. Breastmilk has so many benefits!"
Bethany S.:  "I'm not sure how I heard about milk sharing honestly. I think it was probably at a bfusa meeting or on the local breastfeeding support Facebook page maybe. I think it was suggested to me because I ended up with a pretty big over supply after dealing with a nipple shield, milk blisters and a nasty bout of mastitis. I was also a stay at home mom at the time and didnt have a need for pumped milk. My family asked a lot of questions and my mom liked to bring up how much I donated and how many babies I helped. That always made me feel pretty awesome! I'd do it again in a heartbeat! If I had enough supply left to pump I'd still be pumping and donating but after 3 years, Chase is slowly starting to be close to done nursing. I met a lot of awesome people through milk sharing and it feels so good knowing you helped nourish someone elses baby! Especially watching them grow and hit milestones on Facebook... it's incredible. There's really no other way to describe it! I've donated probably a good thousand ounces, if not more to one family. I tried keeping count but there was just so much milk! We've both driven up to an hour and a half for milk drops. It's so awesome cause my son is only a few weeks younger than her son and we gave them the term Milk Bros lol! For their first birthdays I made shirts that say 'Milk Bros Est. 2012' with a boob leaking milk! There was also a mom I found in the local breastfeeding group, through her friend. She had surgery and couldnt nurse on the meds. I got my milk and another local moms milk together for the friend to pick up and take to the University of Iowa and got an email thanking me a few days later. The week of Thanksgiving rolled around and I got a card in the mail from the parents of the baby the milk went to of them thanking me in great detail. I still have it on my bulletin board. I'm tearing up writing this even. Its such an amazing feeling being able to help moms and babies in need. Milk is so hard to get through the milk banks and I'm sooooo glad i was able to donate to all the moms and babies that I did."
Kate O.:  "I started donating 2 years ago when I was exclusively pumping for my little girl. I made extra and knew it would be helpful for mom's in need. With my second daughter being breastfed, I only pump at work and before bed so had extra to share. I heard about milk sharing through another group and hadn't really thought about it much, but my milk doesn't qualify for hospital donation because I take a low dose anti- depressant so I didn't want it to go to waste! I have not gotten a bad reaction from anyone and have encouraged my friends/family to donate as well. Those who I have donated to have always been appreciative. I don't ask for replacement bags, but a few moms have written notes of appreciation and those mean the most to me. I really saw the benefit from sharing what I had with other moms who might not be as lucky as I have been. I was not able to breast feed my first child so I always felt like I wish someone had offered milk sharing to me as an option."
Lindsey:  "I heard about milk sharing online. My family was pretty supportive of me donating. I had a couple friends that were a little taken back by the fact that I was giving somebody else my milk for their baby. My experience was pretty great! I was able to help 4 babies, one being a preemie with a heart defect and many other medical problems. The biggest benefit I felt was knowing I was helping another mother from having to give her baby formula. For some mothers breastfeeding is a dream they want to be able to fulfill and for one reason or another can't. I would do it over and over again if I was able to!"
Rachel W.:  "My daughter was born in 2011 and my milk never came in. I went and saw a breast specialist and he told me that because of the size of my chest more then likely my ducts were too damaged to produce milk for my little one. I looked into donor milk but hubby didn't trust anyone enough to receive milk so I didn't look much into it. Now with our second child born Feb. 2015 I have an over supply (Go figure right!?)! I started looking into companies to donate and found a family on Human Milk 4 Human Babies page in need within a 5 minute driving distance from me! I wanted to get involved with a family that didn't have to pay anything for my milk except maybe an exchange of baggies for me to fill. It's heart breaking some of these companies charging families in need from $100-300+ per ounce off of my donated milk and that just didn't sit right with me. I've gotten reactions from people saying how disgusting I am and nasty looks to being treated like I'm saving a baby from death. I don't share very often over Facebook except when I hit a milestone- soon to hit 2,000 oz donated!!! Negative or positive my husband's view and little ones chunkiness is all that matters to me and keeps me going, but believe me every 4 am pump i'm having a fight inside my head my eyes begging and body begging for sleep but my boobs begging to empty and believe me the struggle is real! I've donated to a total of 3 families so far, two NICU families and one full term baby. One baby I donated very shortly to and they decided to go dairy free and well living in the dairy state I couldn't see myself able to do that but they had another donor so I stepped back away from that family. Another family had a little girl and mom's supply wasn't coming in... after a couple months of donating I felt I needed a deeper connection with a donor family so back to online to try and find someone I connected with. Even though the family was great it turned into almost feeling like a drug deal. I had my goodies in a bag and exchanged it for empty bags with a thanks and a drive away. ANYWAYS! Onto my awesome donor recipient family! I've been donating to them for 3 months now and things have been great. I met them and ended up talking to them for 3 hours just sharing stories of our children, to where we grew up, to our beliefs. They also are a reason why I keep going. Their little one was very under weight and not growing and the mom decided not to breastfeed. They are very supportive, they replace my bags, bring me ice cream, banana bread, and supportive notes! Their gratitude for what i'm doing just shines through and gives me that extra push when I need it to keep doing what I'm doing. Overall my experience has been hard being a donor but it's the little things that add up to help make this tough journey to keep on going. I don't think people realize the amount of time that is put into pumping. It's a full time job I pump about 10 times a day for 30-45 min so 8 hrs a day or so then I have to wash all the parts and label bags have a fight with my freezer to find room to put more bags and then take care of my own family and their needs. I've also had to choose between working out and dropping weight or feeding my child and another. Every time I work out I immediately drop ounces. I've linked my milk production to calorie intake so when I do exercise I just have to make sure to eat a high calorie meal to make up for it. It sucks that I have had to make that decision but I wouldn't change it for the world. If more women did what so many of us donors are doing then there would be no need for formula... But our world isn't as trusting as it once was. I also have to make sure as a donor that i'm respecting the parents and not taking medications, and drinking, or being around smokers, and having a healthy diet. The biggest benefits are I didn't have to buy a second freezer, i'm not trying to make my baby drink everything I make and waste what's not being drank, you meet some of the most amazing women from support groups to your donor recipient families, I can have that extra pancake or cookie because i'll just pump out the calories later lol!, and lastly just seeing little ones grow. Seeing the little pudge of a double chin or a chunky thigh appear is truly enough to keep going."
Have you donated breastmilk or have you used donor milk?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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